Why these retail chains won't require customers to wear masks

Foot Locker and supermarket chain Hy-Vee say they aren't introducing mask mandates because they are difficult to enforce, and they don't want to put their workers in the position of having to tell shoppers to put on facial coverings. Noam Galai/Getty Images

Walmart, Home Depot, Kroger and other major chains have announced new rules for customers to wear masks at all US stores as the coronavirus spreads. But some companies are bucking the trend.

Foot Locker and supermarket chain Hy-Vee say they aren't introducing mask mandates because they are difficult to enforce, and they don't want to put their workers in the position of having to tell shoppers to put on facial coverings.

"All Foot Locker team members are required to wear masks and we want all our customers to wear them too. But there are too many examples of retail employees across the country being harmed while trying to enforce the wearing of masks. And when it isn't state regulated it's even more contentious," a Foot Locker spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for Hy-Vee, which operates 265 stores across eight states in the Midwest, added:

"Truth be told, it is very difficult for any retailer to enforce or police the wearing of masks by every single customer. Also, we don't want to put our employees in a highly confrontational situation with customers who might be very emotional about this issue -- as has happened at other retail locations."

Instead, Hy-Vee is stationing employees at the front doors of all stores to hand out free masks to customers who are not wearing one prior to shopping. "We are being realistic and responsible by handing out masks and educating our shoppers," the spokesperson said.

The varying policies on masks show how retailers are finding themselves in a tough position as coronavirus cases grow, prompting concern over containing the spread of the virus in stores. Retail industry groups have said that mask mandates for customers should come from the state governors or federal officials, but on July 15, the National Retail Federation, a top lobbying group for the retail industry, also called on all retailers to create mask requirements for customers.

There is no federal mandate to wear a mask and many state and local governments have not required wearing one. Additionally, some law enforcement officials around the country have said they will not enforce mask-wearing orders. This has forced retailers to navigate a patchwork system, leaving them in the position of having to create their own mask policies.

Adding to retailers' concerns, mask opponents have sparked violent incidents at stores, restaurants and other businesses over requirements to wear them. A security guard at a Family Dollar store in Michigan was shot and killed in May after he told a customer to wear a mask. In recent weeks, videos of confrontations between anti-mask customers and clerks at Costco, Target and other stores over these rules have gone viral.

While the country's biggest retailers are mandating masks, many smaller chains are not. Adidas, Dollar Tree and Bass Pro Shops, for instance, say they are taking their customer mask policy cues from local and state guidance.

"We are following local public health guidelines, which vary from state to state and county to county," a spokesperson for Bass Pro Shops said. "Our Covid-related policies and procedures come from guidelines and requirements provided by public health officials, not anything else."

Meanwhile, last week grocery chain Winn-Dixie reversed an earlier stance on masks and said it would require shoppers to wear them.

Labor advocates say there should be a mask requirement for shoppers but believe that it shouldn't be on employees to enforce the policy.

"It is outrageous that any company would fail to implement the same common-sense customer mask requirement that Walmart and Kroger announced," said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. "Mask mandates must be enforced by trained security and not retail workers already stretched thin."

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